Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Why I Hate the Canon EOS 5D Mark III

As a photographer my soft spot is primarily for film cameras and Pentax. I like the underdog a lot and am more tempted to support something innovative or left field from smaller manufacturers, regardless of whether the medium is digital or film. For this reason I have tremendous respect and admiration for the Sony models that have been coming out lately, especially the NEX-7. However I also love simple, no frills camera design. It is the primary reason I love my Pentax 67 as well as the current digital Pentax K-5 and 645D. (Although I own neither of the digital models.) However, when I bought my first serious digital camera about a year and a half ago, I went to the brand that I started SLR photography with: Canon. The reason for this was that I had a clear list of requirements for a DSLR, which were:

  • A full frame sensor (eliminating a lot of cameras, and, annoyingly, all the cheap ones)
  • A well built body that feels good in the hands and can take some abuse
  • High resolution
  • A ready to shoot price of less than $4000 with a general purpose zoom lens.

These requirements shrank the list to three cameras, the Canon 5D Mark II, the Nikon D700, and the Sony A900. I chose the 5D because it felt the best in my hands, seemed to offer the best overall compromise, and because I felt comfortable with Canon’s operation philosophy.

Since then I have gained tremendous respect for the files the camera produces, but I never really bonded with it. Its too cold and clinical for me, it has too many superfluous features, and sometimes diving into the menu is like a journey into Dante’s Inferno. I primarily hate how many button presses and knob twiddles it takes to turn on mirror lockup, which drives me absolutely up the wall compared to the easy and intuitive single lever of my Pentax 67.

My complaints aside, I generally like the 5D and don’t hesitate to take it out shooting, but I wish for something better overall. When the Sony NEX-7 outclassed its megapixel count and the Nikon D800E came out with 36MP and no anti-aliasing filter, I started hoping for the new 5D Mark III. Well, I’ve seen the new 5D Mark III (although not in person), and all I can feel is severe, crushing disappointment. It is simply not what I was hoping for. The mirror lockup is still hiding somewhere in custom function hell, the megapixel count is up a stunning 1.2, the screen is not articulated at all, there is still an AA filter…. UGH!

Now, I do appreciate some of the updates. I like the dual card slots a lot, I like the new AF system as the one in the Mark II is crap, I like the 100% viewfinder and transmissive LCD screen that can turn on or off grid lines without having to swap out a focussing screen. I appreciate the better implementation of live view and movie mode, although without a swiveling screen it still seems a bit half baked. I find the touch sensitive rear dial fascinating, although it will probably supremely gimmicky and useless in the field.

But the Mark III misses so much on so many counts. With the (all things being equal) lackluster resolution and the presence of an AA filter the camera will likely pale in comparison to the Nikon D800E and even the several year old Sony A900. This seems to indicate the biggest problem with Canon, that they refuse to take big leaps, they only take baby steps. So when almost every camera maker, even the usually conservative Nikon start making innovative machines that challenge the supremacy of Canon, there is no response from the red ringed giant.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe the fine art and landscape photographer type that tends to flock to full frame semi-pro DSLRs wants higher speed, not higher resolution. But my gut tells me that Canon has missed the mark badly with the new 5D. And I’m not just saying this because I’m a curmudgeon who wants a camera that just works, like an old film camera would. So I will be keeping my 5D Mark II and waiting for the 5D that I wanted all along. Since that may never happen, I am also waiting for a full frame Pentax, which although it will probably never happen is a nice dream for a photographer who actually uses his gear in the field. Perhaps I’ll trade in all my Canon gear and spring for the 645D, although I probably can’t afford it. Damn.